Posts Tagged ‘Chrome Web Browser’

Google & The Future of TV

Posted by Carl on 2nd June 2010 in Broadcasting, Consumer Electronics, Entertainment

by Richard Martin, Editor in Chief, VON/xchange

When Igor Sikorsky demonstrated the world’s first fully controllable tail-rotor helicopter, in 1940, he was not “inventing” anything: the concept of flying machines with rotary blades had been around for more than a millennia. “The idea was not new,” according to “The Invention of the Helicopter.” “But nobody had got it to work so far.”

Similarly, Apple wasn’t unveiling a totally novel invention when it launched the iPhone in 2007; the notion of a mobile computing device with full Web access and dozens of cool applications had been around for a while, but till then no one had really got it to work.

The most successful technologies, in other words, are not always original; they’re successful manifestations of concepts and mechanisms that have been thought of, tested, and tweaked for years or even centuries. That’s the case with Google’s new Web/TV service, which was unveiled this week and will debut later this year: it has a “but of course” quality to it, because Web companies, broadcasters, and app developers have been trying for years to successfully blend two of the three most common screens in our daily lives. It’s just that nobody has gotten it to work, so far.

There’s no guarantee that Google Inc. (GOOG) has it right, either. Built into television sets from Sony Corp. (SNE), or activated via set-top boxes from Logitech, Google TV will be based on the Android mobile OS, running an integrated version of the Chrome Web browser. The system will be available in Best Buy stores this fall, and it’s unclear, at this point, whether consumers will rush out to buy another box, or replace their flat-screen TVs, with the new Web-enabled system.

What is certain is the power of the idea. Promising “a new experience for television that combines the TV that you already know with the freedom and power of the Internet,” Google TV is the speartip of inevitable forces that will drive the Web toward TV and TV toward a more interactive, Web-like experience.

Those forces made this year’s Consumer Electronics Show the world’s largest trade fair for electronic gizmos and computer gadgets, a watershed for the $15.6 billion TV industry. And they are making telecom operators, who want desperately to integrate their broadband services with TV and video-on-demand, play catch-up with content producers, Web giants like Google, and innovative startups like Sezmi – none of whom see the pipe-providers as essential to their customers’ experience, or to their business model.

In New York Magazine’s TV issue this week, coinciding with the network “upfronts” (the presentation of new programs to the media and, more important, to advertisers) media commentator Michael Hirschorn contributed an entertaining essay subtitled “The industry is in turmoil. Hooray!” (Disclosure: Hirschorn and I crossed paths, briefly, at The Industry Standard many years ago.) Hirschorn argued that the fragmentation of audiences brought about by the rise of niche cable shows, and the corresponding decline in mass-market programs on the big networks, has brought about something of a golden age for TV: when you only need a million or so viewers to have a respectable (and hopefully profitable) show on your hands, it’s much, much easier to put on challenging, whimsical, or just plain weird programs that would never have found a home in the three-networks-plus-HBO-and-CNN TV universe of just a few years ago. “Helped by the declining cost of production, TV right now is mass enough to be commercially viable and narrow enough to allow show creators to give free rein to their once-repressed geekery.”

Though he neglected to mention the coming smash-up of TV and the Web, the advent of Google TV (and Hulu, and the Xfinity on-demand service from Comcast Corp. (CMCSA), and so on) will only accelerate those trends. When Ray William Johnson, of the dumb-yet-irresistible viral-video series “Equals Three,” can become a minor star (and a major one for my son’s demographic, the 12-and-under set) on YouTube, imagine what wonders await us in a combined TV/Web universe, where everything is searchable and the barrier to entry is close to zero.

Hirschorn’s subtitle — “The industry is in turmoil. Hooray!” – applies equally well to telecom as it does to broadcast TV. And the outcome could be equally productive – even prosperous, if not for the major carriers, who are looking just as Paleolithic as their big network counterparts. (Notably absent from senior product manager Rishi Chandra’s presentation at Google’s I/O developer conference was the role that operators, outside cable TV providers, will play in the Google TV ecosystem.)

“As more and more networks get into the business of buying original TV ideas,” Hirschorn claimed, “the power has shifted (marginally but crucially) to the creatives.”

The “creatives,” in the telecom and advanced communications world, are the apps developers, who are being courted by device-makers and telcos like they’re Team Coco. Note that Google’s other big announcement at I/O concerned an Apps Store for Chrome, its next-gen Web browser.

The industry is in turmoil. Audiences are fragmenting, and new ways of distributing and accessing content are emerging. It’s a great time to be a helicopter-designer, not a blimp-factory.